Saturday, June 14, 2008

On Not Being A First Wife

Wm. Kittredge: Middle Aged Love

Reading about the recently deceased Stewart Mott and his mother Ruth Rawlings Mott, I got to thinking about what it means not to be a man's first wife. Ruth Rawlings was C.S. Mott's fourth wife (according to the New York Times, though Wikipedia says she was his third -- I trust the Times more). At any rate, she was his last wife. At the time of their nuptials, he was 59 and she was 33. They were married 39 years. They had three kids and she outlived him by 26 years. Perhaps what I've heard about their courtship (below) isn't true -- that strumpet part and the window-climbing part -- but still, she appears to have had a vivifying effect on the rich old guy, who lived to be 98. The official biography says they met in Baltimore, a long way from Applewood's accessible leaded-glass defenestrations.

I'm my husband's third wife, and he is my second husband. (I was my first husband's second wife and he has since remarried his third wife, for whom he is her second husband. Thus it goes in the 21st century: eight of us all told in this marital geneology, five women and three men. Among us, interestingly, we produced only six kids).

Anyway, I happen to have had a chance to know my present husband briefly when he was on his second marriage, when I ran across him in Tonga. While we scandalously connected under the palm trees and never forgot each other's charms, he had a reputation for being arrogant, noisily opinionated and confrontational. He was. I fell for that street smart Alpha Dog in 1976, but I can see how it caused trouble in his rambunctious life back in the States.

When I met him again in 2001, he was 59, the same age as C.S. Mott when he married Ruth. I quickly ascertained that my old friend had seriously mellowed. He had been through ruinously hard times of professional and romantic turmoil. He had survived, but was, to quote an environmentalist I heard speak this week, deeply "adapted and mitigated." And the man he is today dramatically better suits me than when we first collided in our youthful heats. We've talked about this a lot: what if we'd decided to give up everything at the time to marry each other then? I think it would have been disastrous, despite our intense physical attraction.

I'm grateful not just to him or to the vagaries of life that polished his rough edges, but also to his first two wives. While they might look back on their marriages to my husband with exasperation, he learned from them and that made him a better husband for me.

Likewise, my own wildness has thankfully subsided. I used to want everything from a man, and when he failed me in even small ways (I broke up with one guy because I didn't like the way he chewed his food) I'd quickly dump him. I was the original mindless recycler -- piling men away in bins and never caring where they went from there. I thrived on adding up "experience" and cottoned far more to the conquest than the follow-through; in that regard, a therapist once suggested, I was playing out an extended agitated depression and frantic approval-seeking. I've calmed down. I'm still sometimes subject to bursts of post-menopausal flurries, but in general now I'm in a much more appreciative, less edgy, less judgmental place than I once was. My husband has learned to listen and, god forbid, open up his feelings to me. (Cue the Morris Albert) I've learned to relax and be grateful, to let him be. (Well, okay, in general. I'm still evolving.) I love his mature masculinity. I contend the ripening of many men in their fifties and sixties makes them finally able to be good companions for, um, women of a certain age. They don't care as much about fighting and proving. They appreciate tenderness.

Sometimes we're hit by waves of the mortality blues, and we turn to each other and say in quavering voices, "I wish I could be young for you again." Those are bittersweet moments that remind us to Be Here Now. I feel lucky my husband loves to touch my old dame curves. And I told him I'll sit in his lap from time to time as long as he will have me.

So, here's to being a third wife to a second husband. Three cheers for the fullness of conjugal contentment.


Anonymous said...

Old dame curves are the best, Macy. Seems like I said something similar to that a couple months ago.

As for downstairs -- yep, Gary Custer is definitely a Flint original.

Macy Swain said...

Yes, yes, Anon, you did, but I'm glad for your independent verification, again. Nice to know there are a few of you good men out there who get it.